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Ko - production in Busan
  • For a film culture that communicates/Pusan International Film Festival World Programmer JEON Chan-il
  • by HAN Sunhee /  Sep 01, 2009

  • He was reading the new Haruki MURAKAMI novel 1Q84 when we met for our interview. In fact, JEON Chan-il probably has no time to read any novels these days. He is in charge of programming at Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF), screen recipients of KOFIC English subtitle support program, write introduction for director JEON Soo-il's new movie I Came from Busan that's invited to San Sebastian Film Festival and prepare university lectures. “It's impossible to read anything if I am stuck at my desk with my work. But I try to read whenever I can like now. I am fatally attracted to such Haruki novels.”
    The first time JEON Chan-il made his ties with PIFF was in 2002 when he participated as the program coordinator for Critic's Choice. As the Flash Forward section was newly introduced in 2007, JEON became involved in its programming and after a year of rest he has returned once again to PIFF this year, this time as a programmer. While focusing on selecting invitation works for Flash Forward section, he is also playing the supporting role in selecting films for the World Cinema program. Flash Forward has morphed into a new competition section for finding new non-Asian directors from this year on, and thus his responsibility is heavier than ever. This year's Flash Forward section shows a trend of selecting films that are not quite ‘well-made' but of relatively good quality with certain possibilities. “I have put together films that are slightly rough but future-oriented and have possibilities. Different films were invited from different countries, and not just from Western Europe and America which are the majority in film industry. I can't say every film in this section is the best or favorable to everyone, but I can assure you they're all made of quality.”
    Among Korean film critics, JEON Chanil probably has most frequently attended the Cannes Film Festival. For 12 years since 1997, when May comes around he headed for Cannes with just one year missed. Sometimes he was able to receive funding for the trip, but if not he was willing to pay out his own pocket to go. “Actually I first went there to get some experience but at the time things were awful compared to its preceding fame. I could not believe this was the world renown Cannes. I went again to confirm that fame, and as time went by I came to understand why Cannes is so important. It is like walking through the center of world's film history. I could finally realize that films of the world are controlled by Cannes Festival. It is probably possible to write world film history again with Cannes as one frame.”
    As a kind of film researcher, JEON Chanil's biggest goal is to put together Korean film studies in the context of world film history. “Conventional Korean film studies had been conducted without preliminary study on world film history. But I intend to write Korean film history by mobilizing attractions within the frame of history of ‘world cinema'. This is my ultimate goal that will take more than 10 years to complete. So recently I am studying other fields like psychology, philosophy and aesthetics. This is a process of accumulating knowledge before I dig into the specific category of ‘national cinema' within the general story of ‘world cinema'.”
     Film JEON is particularly interested in are from Germany, Spain and Eastern Europe. Above all he focuses on the common features between these films and Korean films. Firstly he emphasizes we should not forget effects New German Cinema had on Korean films. “We cannot betray New German Cinema. Korean cinema we have now have been formulated based on the cinephile culture that emerged in the late 1970s, and its core had been Nouvelle Vague and New German Cinema. Although New German Cinema failed to communicate with the public, in a way that it has maintained experimentalism and spirits of challenge, it can be said that German cinema today was built on top of New German Cinema foundation.” JEON defines Tom TYKWER's Run Lola Run as the beginning of modern German cinema and The Lives of Others as its peak, and say German cinema is an ‘intermediate cinema' where popularity and art come together. Then he adds Korean films too have features of such ‘intermediate cinema'. In other words, modern Korean films embrace both professional artistry and popular commercialism and such flexibility and energy are the power maintaining Korean cinema. As for Spanish films' attractiveness, once again JEON Chan-il talks of communication between person and person, and the drama of relationships. Including the works of Pedro ALMODOVAR, dramas in many Spanish films seem to be contingency happening excessively, but underneath stands out the interconnectedness among elaborately involved characters. “In the book Cultural Grammar of the Koreans I had read Koreans explain everything with ‘relationships'. It is true. There never had been true individualism in Korean society. Collective consciousness based on individuality or personality is rather more important. Korean films reflect such sides and they can be found in Spanish films too.”
     Furthermore, JEON has shown much interest in East European films. Especially he notes how recent Romanian movies have the senses to delicately observe the reality and have them expressed into fables. While Korean movies interpret tragedy of reality as ‘han' (grief), Romanian films sublimate it into humor. Hungarian films, too, need more research, as Hungary shows the most similar traits to Koreans amongst all Eastern European countries. Like the case of films made by Gyorgy PÁLFI, who directed Am Not your Friend, to be shown in this year's World Cinema section, films with unique narratives and refreshing presentations are being made in Hungary. I
    In the future, JEON wishes to create film culture as communication which he stresses at all times through PIFF as well. “PIFF is an organization that plays an important role in the culture and society of this country called Korea. Thus it has to be for the good and benefit of the public. Through the film festival I hope to put in all my energy to establish international human network. Also I will pay much attention to make this festival an important field for discourse, criticism and research on films.”
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